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May 31st, 1998 Tornado Outbreak

On Sunday, May 31st, 1998 severe thunderstorms crossed Otsego county during the afternoon and early evening hours. Severe thunderstorm warnings were issued at 3:03 PM and a tornado warning was issued at 6:04 PM. On June 1, the National Weather Service did an aerial survey of the area which confirmed the touchdown of a tornado in the area just North of Oneonta airport near the Town of Laurens. Extensive tree damage and some damage to structures was visible along the damage path between Laurens and Milford. On June 2 and 3rd, the National Weather Service surveyed this area on the ground to further study the damage. This report is the result of these investigations. The information is supplemented by information received from Otsego County emergency management officials.

Damage from the first storm was reported between 3:30 and 4:00 PM and was spotty, with downed trees in the Oneonta and Cooperstown areas and a couple of barn silos toppled. This damage was most likely caused by straight line winds associated with the thunderstorm outflow boundary and microbursts.

Between 5:30 and 5:40 PM, a severe thunderstorm crossing Chenango county began to show signs of increasing low level rotation on the Doppler radar. Forecaster's upgraded the severe thunderstorm warning for Chenango county to a tornado warning at 5:40 PM. As the storm approached Otsego county, the strong low level rotation continued, so a tornado warning was issued for Otsego countyat 6:04 PM.

Otsego tornado #1 (F3)

Around 6:10 PM a tornado touched down near Silver Lake (Route 13). Three houses along Route 13 were heavily damaged. One modular home was shifted partially off its foundation. F2 damage occurred in this area. As the storm moved east the tornado appears to have lifted up and touched down numerous times. In the village of Morris several trees were toppled and 3 mobile homes were damaged on the hillside just east of town. North of Morris there was tree damage on Braun Hill in the town of New Lisbon.

As the storm approached Lake Brook and Gilbert Lake Rd and Balantic Hill Rd. about 1.25 miles northwest of Laurens the tornado touched down again. Here (reference point 1) one foot diameter pines were snapped at 20 feet. The damage extended for a distance of about 300 feet to the east. A half mile north of (1) a tree fell onto a house. A quarter mile northeast of (1) near the top of the ridge two eyewitnesses were interviewed. The first witness (Joan Varian) said she was watching a Syracuse TV station when she heard the tornado warning for Chenango county around 5 PM. Then around 6:11 PM she says she heard a loud continuous roar which sounded like a jet airplane. She had isolated trees down over a 300 foot wide path, but there were no shingles off her roof. (F0 damage). Apparantly, the tornado passed just south of her residence.

Just up the street another resident, Theresa Oellrich, witnessed the event. Theresa said the wind hit very suddenly and for around 60 seconds the windows rattled so hard she thought they would shatter. The wind shook the house so bad the locked sliding glass door on rear of the house opened on its own. A heavy charcoal grill was picked up and dropped 20 feet to the north. The top 6 feet of the masonry block chimney was blown down to the east. Vinyl soffit and siding on the west side of the house was damaged. Several bird houses on 4 ft by 4 ft wooden posts were pulled out of the ground and scattered. A 300 yard wide area behind the house and to the north had many trees snapped off 20 feet above the ground. For the next 300 yards along the road to the south many large trees were uprooted. The intensity of this tornado was rated as F1 with a path width of 600 yards.

One half mile east of (1) the path crossed another road. Here, a house lost a few shingles and most of the many large trees on the lot were uprooted. Cherry trees were snapped. The driveway was covered with twisted and mangled trees in multiple directions. The residents said they heard a "swish" sound - like a train. Then everything went grey and they went to the cellar. They did say they heard the warning on their scanner. Across the street, a large maple tree fell on an old house being used as a shed. The resident of a new house on the same lot said that "it was very sudden, all you could see was water and wind, all you could hear was creaking and cracking of the house." His trees were all twisted with one tree thrown up into another one (to the north). A pop up camper was rolled into the woods and its roof disappeared. At the next house trees were blown down to the south. The intensity of this tornado was rated as F1 wit a path width of 600 yds.

The tornado caused little damage on the east facing slope down into the Pool Brook Valley. Then as the storm crossed the rising terrain of the west facing slope, the tornado touched down again. This time four separated damage tracks (swaths of trees) were found up the hillside over a north-south distance of one half mile. This damage was 1 to 1.5 miles due north of Laurens. Each swath of trees was 100 to 150 yds wide with 100 to 300 yds between them. They were oriented pretty close to east-west. It is believed that this was one multi-vortex tornado with 4 separate funnels on the ground at this point as the storm was intensifying. The northernmost damage was F1 intensity, cutting a 150 yd by 500 yd swath up the hillside. Most trees were snapped off or uprooted. A lucky trailer at the base of the valley received no apparent damage. To the south of this swath of trees, there was about 200 yds of F0 damage before another swath of trees received F1 damage up the hillside. This track was about 100 yds by 600 yds. The damage continued into the Otego Valley across Route 11. Here huge (4 foot diameter) maples were snapped at 15 feet off the ground (F1).

Another 200 yds down the road a third swath of downed trees crossed the road and went up the hillside. Here the ridge line drops off to the south as Pool Brook Valley merges with the Otego Creek Valley. This may have enhanced the local vorticity as the winds traveled around the south end of this ridge and may have assisted in the spin-up of these additional 2 vortices. This tornado cut a 200 yd wide swath which was estimated to be at least 1000 yds long. In the area first viewed, all the trees were snapped off or uprooted. Many of these were maples with 8-14 inch diameter trunks. The severe intensity and of the tree damage along a few parts of this track is consistent with F2 damage. Damage continued into the Otego Valley across Route 11. Here the tin roof of a shed was hanging in the overhead wires, isolated trees were snapped off, and the skirt was blown out from underneath a trailer (F0 Damage).

One hundred yds further south, a fourth area of tree damage was found. In this Area of large pines with some large maple, roughly 50% of the pines Were snapped off in chaotic directions and some of the maples Uprooted. Damage was light indicating F0 damage along this 100 yd Wide by 500 yd long path. Damage continued into the otego valley Across route 11. Here the roof of a barn was slight damaged and tree Tops snapped (F0).

On the east side of Otego Creek, along Route 205, damage extended From one mile north of Laurens all the way to Mt. Vision, with the worst damage right around Dutch Hill Road. Just south of a Dutch Hill farm, three swaths are still evident, again indicating multiple vortices. At Dutch Hill farm, the dairy barn, milking shed, and silo suffered major damage. The barn roof was torn off with large 8 by 8 by 18 foot barn timbers thrown up to 200 feet. A 40 lb piece of steel railing from over the barn door was thrown 200 feet. Some 2 by 6 by 8 foot floor boards thrown 300 feet. Roof joists 3 by 6 by 10 feet blown 300 feet. Heavy farm implements, a hay bailer and corn chopper, were blown about 50 feet. The house, which wasn't far from the barn, received only minor damage. Damage to the farm indicates a F1/F2 tornado.

Mr. Milan Djurdjevich, the farm owner, was with his father, mother, and friend, milking cows in the barn as the storm approached. There was no unusual noise as the storm approached. All of sudden Milan noticed something very strange in the cows behavior. Cows love their Silage. Yet, all the cows had there heads up looking toward the southwest side of the barn. They had all stopped eating. Milan instinctively yelled at everyone to head for the north side of the barn as he went to the milking shed on the southwest side to shut the door. As he tried to shut the door he was blown back against the barn and pinned against the wall by the force of the wind. At this point the wall of the milking shed was peeled off and blew away. Milan finally made it to the door as the barn itself lost its top story to the wind and floor timbers overhead were ripped into the air. No one was injured. During the storm a calf was born, cleaned by the wind and rain. She's been named "tornado". Based on a stopped clock, the time the tornado arrived was estimated to around 6:12 PM.

Further to the north in Mt. Vision, lots of large trees fell, some on homes, throughout the town. These were mostly uprooted maples and large limbs. Damage here is F0 and consistent with damage due to strong straight line winds in very close proximity to the tornadoes.

The tornado intensified as it rode up the hillside (Dutch Hill Road, Lane Hill Road) into the Millford State Forest. Here, the tree damage was incredible, cutting a half mile wide x 3 mile long path of destruction through the middle of this once pristine area. The worst damage seemed to follow up a valley to the east- northeast from Dutch Hill Road. Essentially, a large part of the woodland in the Millford state forest has been destroyed. Where there had been 500 acres of dense forest, the woods are clear cut with all trees uprooted and snapped. Only the main trunks of a few trees were left standing. Parts of Lane Hill Road were totally inaccessible due to the piles of trees dumped on top of one another (F3 damage).

As the tornado got to the top of the ridge it lifted a bit, allowing it to pass north of and skip over a couple of one story houses on the ridge top. These homes had some trees down and snapped off. One tree fell on a house. Some shingles and siding were stripped off a house and the top of the chimney was blown off. The owner said the wind hit suddenly. All of sudden they couldn't see 50 feet across the yard and they ducked into the center of the house as it shook (F1 damage). To the north of the homes, F2 damage continued for another half mile east. Another house with a tree on it was just southeast of Lane Hill.

As the storm moved east across the saddle along Lane Hill Road which runs between Lane Hill and Dutch Hill, patchy areas of uprooted and snapped trees could be found (F1 damage). The tornado tracked just south of Lane Hill Road. The tornado track took it one half mile south of Edson Corners and one mile south of Milford. On Tansey Hill Road, lots of trees were sheared off around two houses, but the homes themselves appeared to have little damage (F1 damage).

As the tornado came down into the Susquehanna Valley, a dairy farm on Route 28 took a direct hit from the storm. As it came down the east facing slope, it snapped off most of the trees on the hillside in a swath 100 yds across. First it slammed into a pole barn and area of veal huts. The fiberglass huts were blown 200 yards north. Several calves were killed. The pole barn was completely gone. Further down the hill, the main barn lost some of its roof and the top of its silo which fell nearby. A piece of the barn roof was blown north, through a window and into the living room of the house. Across Route 28, another barn was destroyed and a trailer was overturned several times. A small refrigerator inside the trailer was reportedly blown 100 yds east into a pond (F1 damage).

As the tornado headed up the west face of Crumhorn Mountain, 2 miles southeast of Milford, it took out another major swath of trees up the entire face. From the distance, this appeared to be F1 damage. 150 yds by one half mile swath of trees were damaged.

According to Lyle Jones, emergency manager, spotty damage continues further east to the county line.

Otsego tornado #2 (F2)

Approximately 2.5 miles south of the first tornado track, another tornado touched down from this same supercell storm. This tornado may have first touched down briefly around Morris where several mobile homes were damaged. The first confirmed touchdown was 1 mile north of Portlandville along Route 44. A 50 yd wide swath of trees sustained considerable damage (F1). As the storm crossed the ridge and into the Susquehanna Valley, it caused little damage. Then, it touched down again on the west facing slope of Crumhorn Mountain, producing a 100 yd by one half mile swath of downed trees. About 50 % of the lower elevation trees were down (F1) with 100 % of the trees gone on the ridge top (F2). This storm then tracked east to Maryland where there were scattered downed trees and some minor damage to structures (F0).

County damages

Lyle Jones, Otsego County emergency manager, reports that 250 structures (agricultural, residential, business) were damaged by the storms countywide. Damage to forests and trees was extensive.

National Weather Service
Binghamton Weather Forecast Office
32 Dawes Drive
Johnson City, NY 13790
(607) 729-1597
Page last modified: May 28, 2008
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